Tacoma getting a whiff of success

Associated Press

TACOMA — For more than 100 years — ever since the Klondike Gold Rush secured Seattle’s role as the dominant city on Puget Sound in 1897 — this blue-collar town to the south has been the underdog.

Until lately, all the recent high-tech cash and glory had been concentrated in the Seattle area as well.

Over the years, Tacoma was best known for the sulfurous odor generated by its pulp-mill plants. And even that distinction is pretty much gone; there is just one mill left now that big timber’s heyday has passed, and the "aroma of Tacoma" has long since been reduced by filters.

But destiny finally may have arrived for the City of Destiny — a boastful moniker coined in the 1880s that recently had been considered a cruel joke.

With Seattle choking on its own success 30 miles to the north — high real estate prices, some of the worst traffic in the nation and downtown development that threatens to overwhelm the city’s character and obscure its world-class views — people and businesses are coming to Tacoma.

"I tell people that everyone wants to live and work in Tacoma — they just don’t know it yet," said Eric Cederstrand, the city’s self-appointed head cheerleader and a commercial real estate broker.

Actually, lots of them do know it. Thousands of Seattle workers commute daily from Tacoma, where housing prices are still within reach.

In time, the pace may pick up in the other direction.

More than 100 new companies have settled here in the past two years, drawn by the scale, the real estate market, helpful local government, proximity to Seattle and city-owned utility Tacoma Power’s $100 million high-speed telecommunications network.

"This city has a vision and a mission. They’re reinventing the city around the business space and what I would call e-business," said Karen Worstell, vice president of information security for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Atomic Tangerine, a consulting firm. She opened the company office here in August.

"I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven," Worstell said. "It’s the same fast-paced company, the same exciting work," but at the end of the day, "I drive 18 miles to my house and sit on the deck on the water and look at the Milky Way."

Tacoma, with a population of 187,000 vs. 540,000 in Seattle, has commercial real-estate prices that average about half of Seattle’s. As for housing, the average single-family home price in Seattle was $288,000 in September, up from $223,000 a year ago. In Tacoma, the price this fall averages $206,000 — up from $144,000 a year ago.

The turnaround for Tacoma came after 15 years of struggling with complicated Indian land claims, street crime, two waterfront Superfund sites and a decaying downtown core.

Some of the biggest skeptics about Tacoma’s prospects are longtime Tacomans.

"There have been so many fits and starts over the last couple of decades," said Rob Grenley, who runs a microchip technology business. But he also conceded, "Ten years ago, downtown Tacoma was not a place you’d want to come home to. It was a scary place to be."

At the local office of Advanced Telcom Group, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based telecommunications company, general manager Bruce Green recalled his horror on arrival at his new office here in May 1999 — a ruin of a building in a blighted downtown block with negligible foot traffic.

But the neighborhood has come alive over the past year and a half, he said.

He considers Tacoma unique in offering an airport, a seaport, a railport and a cyberport.

No other U.S. city "has the upside potential that Tacoma has," Green said. "It’s like Chicago at the turn of the century."

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

President Joe Biden speaks at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, N.C., on April 14, 2022. Biden plans to nominate Michael Barr  to be the Federal Reserve's vice chairman of supervision. The selection of Barr comes after Biden's first choice for the Fed post, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination a month ago (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Washington Democrats voice support for Biden’s decision to drop out of presidential race

Some quickly endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him on the ballot.

Teenager in stable condition after Everett drive-by shooting Saturday

Major Crime Unit detectives were looking for two suspects believed to have shot the teenager in the 600 block of 124th Street SW.

Miners Complex tops 500 acres in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Nine lightning-caused fires force trail closures and warnings 21 miles east of Darrington. No homes are threatened.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
Mukilteo levy lid lift will hike average tax bill about $180 more a year

The lift will fund six more workers, ambulances, equipment and medical supplies. Opponents call it unnecessary.

Doug Ewing looks out over a small section of the Snohomish River that he has been keeping clean for the last ten years on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Oscar Hoover Water Access Site in Snohomish, Washington. Ewing scours the shorelines and dives into the depths of the river in search of trash left by visitors, and has removed 59 truckloads of litter from the quarter-mile stretch over the past decade. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
If Snohomish River campaign passes, polluters could be held accountable

This summer, a committee spearheaded efforts to grant legal rights to the river. Leaders gathered 1,300 signatures.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.